A/N: This story was written as a birthday tribute to The Real Snape - - Dickens lover, excellent beta-reader, and even more excellent friend.

Herein, you'll find a number of wonderful lines. They were written by Charles Dickens as part of the classic A Christmas Carol, on which this story is based. The rest of the lines were written by me. The characters, of course, belong to JKR. Except for Tilda, who is mine.

- - - / / / - - -

Snape was dead: to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that. His body may have disappeared before anyone from Hogwarts reached the Shrieking Shack after the Battle, but his bloody cloak had been found. The registry of his (well, at least of the cloak's) burial was signed by the new Minister, the shaman, the undertaker, and the chief mourning hero. Harry Potter signed it: and Potter's name was good in the wizarding world, for anything he chose to put his hand to.

Severus Snape was dead as a door-nail.

Minerva McGonagall knew he was dead? Of course she did. How could it be otherwise? McGonagall and Snape had been colleagues for I don't know how many years. She was Snape's sole executor, his sole administrator, and apparently, his sole confidant. She was not his sole legatee, however: though he'd bequeathed her his books, he'd left his small savings and his dilapidated house to a distant Muggle cousin, one Thaddeus Snape, who sold the house, took his money, and departed this story forever.

Nor was McGonagall Snape's sole friend and sole mourner - - at least not once Potter had proclaimed him a hero. After that, half the people who had known him claimed to have been his secret boon companion, the one person who had really understood him. And as for mourners - - ha! More people attended Snape's funeral than had come out for Dumbledore's, if you can credit it. If there was anything more interesting to people than a brush with wizarding greatness, it was a brush with doomed, tragic wizarding greatness.

Of course, deep down, many people knew that while Snape lived, Minerva McGonagall had been his only friend, or at least, the only person he'd ever let into his rooms. She was the only person he voluntarily engaged in conversation, even if only to remind her how long it had been since Gryffindor had taken the Quidditch Cup. She was the only person whose health he had gone to the hospital wing to enquire about, after she'd been hit by four stunners.

He had not, however, silenced Madam Pomfrey with a Dumb-as-a-Post Hex when she told him she'd sent Minerva to St. Mungo's. That rumour had been started by over-imaginative children who'd been sitting there awaiting their allergy potions when Snape appeared. No, he hadn't hexed Madam Pomfrey at all; that was nonsense. He'd merely threatened to.

But now he was dead.

And what of Minerva? Unlike Snape, she was not dead; that must be distinctly understood.

She was not dead, but you could scarcely tell. After the war ended, after she was appointed Headmistress, after she ought to have been happy and relaxed, glad to be living in a safe world at last. . .well, she wasn't.

From the way she behaved, you'd have thought the war had been lost, or that perhaps she had indeed died and become a miserable ghost, a slightly-more-corporeal Nearly-Headless Nick. Just without the nearly-headless part.

Oh! But she turned into a tight-lipped, icy-hearted spectre at the Hogwarts feast, did Minerva. Hard and sharp as flint, from which no steel had ever struck out generous fire; secret, and self-contained, and solitary as an oyster. The cold within her froze her features, nipped her pointed nose, spoke out sharply in a voice so cutting that if, five hundred years earlier, she had been a sword and not a woman, there would have been no "Nearly" about Headless Nick. She carried her own low temperature always about with her; she iced her office in the dogdays; and didn't thaw it one degree at Christmas.

- - - / / / - - -

One day - - of all good days of the year, Christmas Eve - - Minerva sat alone in her Hogwarts office. It was cold, bleak, biting weather: foggy withal. Albus's charmed Never-Wrong clocks had only just gone three, but it was quite dark already - - it had not been light all day: and candles were flaring in the tower windows like ruddy smears upon the palpable brown air. The fog came pouring in at every chink and keyhole, and was so dense without, that although the Astronomy Tower was only a dozen broom-lengths away from her window, its outline was a mere phantom.

It was cold and frosty without, and no less frosty within, when Poppy Pomfrey made her to Minerva's office that afternoon.

She was sorry, but not surprised, to see that Minerva hadn't even banished the fog from round her own desk. It swirled about in greasy eddies, and my goodness, was it oppressive. To see the dingy cloud come drooping down, obscuring everything, Poppy might have thought that the ghost of Severus Snape lived hard by, and was brewing on a large scale.

"A merry Christmas, Minerva!" Poppy called out in as cheerful a voice as she could.

"Bah," said Minerva. "The war may be over, but there's nothing to be merry about. The war debt we owe to the goblins - - we'll never be able to pay it, Poppy, and in the meantime, we can't repair the castle. And almost everyone worth knowing is dead."

Poppy supposed she should be grateful for that "almost." It was difficult, dealing with Minerva these days, but Poppy pressed on. It was Christmas Eve, after all.

"But it's been nearly two years, Minerva," she said. "Albus wouldn't want you to keep grieving. You know how he loved the yuletide. You could celebrate for his sake. Don't be cross."

"What else can I be," returned Minerva, "when I live in such a petty world as this? Merry Christmas! Out upon merry Christmas! What's Christmas time to me or to Hogwarts but a time for paying bills without money and thinking of all that's been lost? If I could work my way, every idiot who goes about with 'Merry Christmas' on her lips should have to spend Christmas Day looking out of a plate on Dolores' Umbridge's wall!"

"Minerva!" pleaded Poppy.

"Poppy!" returned Minerva, sternly, "keep Christmas in your own way, and let me keep it in mine."

"Keep it!" repeated Poppy. "But you don't keep it."

"Let me leave it alone, then," said Minerva. "Good afternoon."

So Poppy took her leave, sorrowfully, but she brightened as evening approached, and she and her colleagues Pomona and Filius prepared to join Aberforth at the Hog's Head for a night of cozy fires and colourful packages and turkey and libations.

But before she left, she asked her favourite house elf to keep an eye on the Headmistress. "I know you have your own party to attend, Tilda, but if you could just check on her from time to time."

"Tilda will watch," said the elf, "but Mistressy will be doing like last year, sitting alone and not be moving and have the whisky and maybe some tears."

"Yes, very likely, poor thing. Well, just Floo-call if anything goes wrong."

- - - / / / - - -

For all that she had asked to be alerted to anything strange, Poppy was not prepared, upon her return to her rooms in the wee hours, to find Tilda perched on her sofa, smiling a delighted smile and clapping her hands. But a nearly-empty bottle on the floor seemed to offer sufficient explanation.

"Tilda? What's all this? Have you been drinking?"

"It is Christmas," said the elf. "Tilda's time is her own. You will please to not be judging. Tilda is celebrating."

"Celebrating Christmas?"

"Celebrating Mistressy Minerva. She is no longer being sad and alone with whisky tears."

"What! Tilda, you don't mean. . . Has she done herself. . .harm?"

"No, no. Would Tilda be sitting here smiling if the Mistressy is offing herself? No. She is not being done harm. She is being done good. She is in her bed right now, being done good by the old master."

Poppy staggered to the nearest chair. "She is with Albus? The headmaster? Talking to his portrait, do you mean? Oh, poor dear, I didn't know she'd actually brought the portrait into her room. It's not really him, she should know that. . ."

"No, no," Tilda said again, frowning this time. "You is being obtuse. Not the old old master. The young old master."

And to Poppy's enthralled ears, the elf unfolded her tale.

- - - / / / - - -

She had gone to Minerva's rooms as she had been bid. The Mistressy, as expected, had been seated on her sofa, glass of whisky in hand, her eyes glittering in the firelight.

And in the fire, Tilda had seen a strange thing. Now, it is a fact, that there was nothing at all particular about Mistressy's fire. The fireplace was an old one, paved all round with quaint Dutch tiles, but still there was nothing particular about it.

It is also a fact, that Tilda had seen Floo-calling many times, night and morning, all over the castle; also a fact that Tilda had as little of what is called fancy about her as any elf in wizard-dom. Let it also be borne in mind that Tilda had not bestowed one thought on the young old master for months, not since Rita Skeeter had interviewed some of the house elves about him on the sly in Hogsmeade.

Yet as she peeked round Mistressy's sofa to look in her fire, Tilda saw - - not just flames, but Severus Snape's face.

The same face: the very same. Snape with his greasy curtain of hair, his pale skin, crooked nose, and thin lips. He was in the fire, talking.

And then in a flash of green, he was stepping out of the flames onto the hearthrug, wanding soot from his robes, holding out his hands toward Mistressy.

"Who are you?" the headmistress said, which Tilda thought was odd; it was so obviously the dead young old master, come back to haunt them.

"Ask me who I was."

"Who were you, then?" said Mistressy.

"In another life I was your rival, your friend, your lover."

"You are a ghost?"

"No. But I am a new man." He raised his eyebrows at her. "You don't believe in me," he observed.

"I don't," said Mistressy.

The dead new man young old master sat down next to her and put his hands over hers. "What evidence would you have of my reality, beyond that of your senses?"

"I don't know," said Mistressy, sounding to Tilda's large ears as if she were halfway between tears and hope.

"Why do you doubt your senses?"

"Because," said Mistressy, "a little thing affects them. A slight disorder of the stomach makes them cheats. You may be an undigested bit of beef. . ."

But her voice wavered a bit as the dead new man young old master reached out to stroke her face.

". . . a blot of mustard," she continued, seeming as if she couldn't quite catch her breath; Tilda hoped she wasn't going to faint. The dead new man young old master must have been worried, too, because he started to give her the Kiss of Life. Or at least a kiss, at any rate.

"ahh. . .a crumb of. . .cheese, " gasped the Mistress, "or a fragment. . .oh, god. . ." She was distracted because the dead new man young old master had put his hands on her chest. She must be having an attack, and he was trying to start her heart again. Tilda had heard Poppy Lady talk of such a thing. Healers did it.

But now the dead new man young old master moved his hands to the sides of Mistressy's face and was kissing her again.

After quite a long time, he asked, "Do you believe in me or not?"

Tilda was pleased to see Mistressy throw her arms around him. She must be feeling better.

"I do," said Mistressy. "I must. Oh, Severus, where have you been? And are you back to stay?"

He said he was, and she said they could talk later, and when they went into the bedroom, Tilda was glad. Maybe if everything was all right now, she could leave and go to Winky's party.

She tiptoed over to the bedroom for one last look, just to make sure nothing was wrong. And she saw. . .

Oh. Oh.

- - - / / / - - -

"And then Tilda is understanding. Oh, yes, she is. And Poppy Lady will be understanding, too, Tilda is thinking."

But Poppy was momentarily speechless. Severus Snape, alive? And in Minerva's bed? Oh, nonsense. Severus was dead. There was no doubt whatever about that.

Still. She had better check on Minerva, just in case.

Tilda had fallen over to start snoring on the sofa, so she'd be safe enough; Poppy wanded a blanket over her and headed to Minerva's quarters.

The chill of the corridors cleared her mind, and she could even laugh a little. Severus back - - the very idea was ridiculous. Surely the whole story was just Tilda's drunken imaginings.

The more Poppy thought about it, the more certain she was. There was more of cherry brandy than of Charon about this, Poppy was convinced.

When she reached Minerva's door, she lifted the large antique knocker, and her eyes played a trick on her; she'd obviously stayed up too late. For she could have sworn that for a split second, the knocker looked like Snape's face.

But it wasn't the knocker. The door had opened, and standing before her was Severus.

He was not dead. There was no doubt whatever about that.

- - - / / / - - -

Years later, when the story of Severus Snape's miraculous return had become the stuff of legend, Poppy was always happy to retell the tale of her part in it - - in what Rita Skeeter called "the greatest romance of the war."

There had been an uproar at first, of course, but then everything had settled down. Life went on.

And in that life, Severus had indeed been a new man - - oh, still sarcastic and sneering and impatient of fools, of course; the universe wasn't that unstable. But he smiled frequently, and he could often be prevailed upon to share a bowl of smoking bishop with his colleagues, and he and Minerva were happy. He became as good a friend, as good a potions master, and as good a man, as the good old castle knew, in the good old world.

Some people laughed to see the alteration in him, but he let them laugh, and little heeded them; for he was wise enough to know that nothing ever happened on this globe, for good, at which some people did not have their fill of laughter in the outset; and knowing that such as these would be blind anyway, he thought it quite as well that they should wrinkle up their eyes in grins, as have the malady in less attractive forms.

His own heart laughed: and that was quite enough for Minerva and for him.

~ ~ ~Fin